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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Faces of the A-10: Richmond's Brittani Shells

Senior explores her two passions - basketball and film - at UR



This article was originally posted by University of Richmond Sports Information
and can be found here
 
Brittani Shells, ’11, can barely remember a time when she didn’t have a basketball in her hand. The guard for the University of Richmond’s varsity women’s basketball team spent much of her childhood shooting hoops on a neighborhood court, establishing a lifetime passion for the sport and ultimately spawning aspirations to play professionally.

“My dad introduced me to the sport and since then I’ve loved it,” she says. “He passed away in 2005, but I know that he still, in a way, lives on through me because I’m still playing.”

By the time she reached high school, Shells knew she wanted to play basketball in college and was looking for a small school with a coach that meshed with her style. After Michael Shafer, head coach for the women’s basketball team, reached out and compared her to her favorite basketball player — Allen Iverson — Shells decided to give the University of Richmond a look.

“[Coach Shafer] definitely drew me in,” she says. “He knew I liked to score and that’s what the team needed at the time. I took a look and loved it; I didn’t even look into any other schools. I felt at peace.”
Being on the women’s basketball team has been one of the highlights of Shells’ Richmond experience. In particular, Shells remembers playing James Madison University in the NCAA’s National Invitation Tournament her sophomore year.

“JMU is a pretty good school and it was a tie game,” she says. “Coach put me in a position where I had to create a shot and I actually made it! I was going crazy.”

Shells also found her teammates made the University a home away from home.

“My teammates are amazing,” she says. “We rarely see our families, so they’re like another family. Some people have fraternities or sororities, but I have the basketball team and that’s all I need.”

When Shells isn’t scoring baskets on the Robins Center court, she can often be found capturing her world behind the lens of her Flip camera. Film was an outlet for her growing up and a career path she’s considering entering down the road, if she doesn’t immediately enter the realm of professional basketball.

“My dream team has been the Washington Mystics,” she says. “But then I thought about the L.A. Sparks — and that’s in L.A., in Hollywood. That’s exactly where I really want to be for film.”

Though the University's film major wasn't created until Shells' junior year, the rhetoric and communication studies major still found time to prepare for film school by taking courses in the field.

This year she combined her two passions by turning the camera on her teammates during pre-season practices and workout sessions. She's now editing the footage to create her own film.

“The classes showed me a different side of film,” she says. “I never noticed how much went into creating frames. And editing my own video is a lot of work, but it’s fun to see how it all forms together.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A-10 Student-Athletes Take to the Streets

In today's post we'll feature some of the great work A-10 student-athletes have been doing in the community, finding ways to give back:

First up, Charlotte Men's Basketball visits the Children's Hospital:



Next, Fordham Track & Field:
 Photo Gallery
Bronx, N.Y. - While getting back to work on the track over the past two weeks, the Fordham track & field teams have also put in plenty of work off the track during the holiday season, putting together two community service projects.
The first project was a holiday toy drive, where the teams collected and donated toys to the Butler Child Advocacy Center at Montefiore Hospital.
The team collected 77 board games to give to the Center's annual Holiday Party. The Center works with 200 children from the Bronx community that come from abusive households. The party was attended by the children and their families. The games collected by the Fordham track & field team allowed every child who attended to leave the party with a gift.
The Rams are also participating in the Nike Reuse-A-Shoe Program, collecting various pairs of shoes and sneakers for a new age recycling effort.


Richmond Men's Basketball visit the homeless:



Saint Louis Women's Basketball give back to Haiti: Watch the Video

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rivals' Eisenberg Covers Coach Major And The 49ers

Read all rivals.yahoo.com NCAA coverage HERE

 

Revitalized Charlotte has surged since dismissing Shamari Spears



Remove the most talented player from a floundering team already decimated by injuries, and what do you get?

In Charlotte's case, a sudden revival almost nobody saw coming.

Since first-year coach Alan Major dismissed top scorer Shamari Spears three weeks ago for violating team rules, Charlotte has rallied from a 4-6 start to reel off four wins in a row entering Wednesday night's conference opener at Richmond. Bookending that streak is a one-point win over then-No. 7 Tennessee and a double-overtime come-from-behind victory at Georgia Tech.

"We struggled a little bit early, but I always felt good about what we had," Major said by phone this week. "I'm happy the guys have rallied around each other and supported each other. That's what being a team is all about."

Few teams have endured more adversity in the first two months of the season than Charlotte, which last made the NCAA tournament in 2005 and was projected to finish in the middle of the Atlantic 10 again this season. K.J. Sherrill and Charles Dewhurst suffered meniscus tears during the first week of practice and Spears and two other returners were suspended to start the season, contributing to a disappointing start that included losses to Gardner-Webb, East Carolina and Davidson.

The nadir appeared to come Dec. 14 when Major announced he was dismissing Spears from the team. The senior had previously indicated on his Twitter that he was having trouble adjusting to Major, saying once during the preseason that he missed Lutz and another time he was close to quitting the team.


Major still won't shed much light on exactly what led to Major's dismissal except to say that the decision was "difficult" and that he wants players who "represent the university in the right way." What he will talk about is how he has managed to keep the rest of the team positive and upbeat under unenviable circumstances.

"One thing we do a lot is we try to teach life lessons," Major said. "We just try to relate a lot of what happened to life and to developing toughness and bringing the right effort and those kinds of things. It's a little bit corny but it has worked for us."

Cheesy or not, the life lessons have helped the 49ers step up in Spears' absence the past few weeks.
Center Phil Jones had the game-winning layup with 7.4 seconds against Vols. Guard Javarris Barnett sank a game-clinching three in a one-point win over Mercer. And guard Derrio Green hit the game-tying and game-winning buckets against Wright State and scored 21 points in the win at Georgia Tech.

"Everyone in their own way has chipped in," Major said. "Different guys have had big scoring nights or made key plays to help us, and that's why we've turned it around."

Post Game Interviews From Some of Last Night's Winners

Wednesday, January 5, 2011




By Ray Floriani

The Fordham Rams open their Atlantic Ten schedule hosting Temple at the Izod Center tonight. Fordham will play four conference games at the East Rutherford, N.J. based facility and the matchup with the Owls is the opener.
  
A year ago the Rams were being mentioned for several reasons. Such as a star player exiting and a coaching change in December. Currently, Fordham is in the conversation thanks to an impressive win over St. John’s last month. It was the Red Storm’s most recent loss to date. Moving along, a few numbers to consider:

                          Pace                Offensive Efficiency     Defensive Efficiency
Temple                  67                              102                                   89
Fordham               67                              100                                  102

Both teams are respectable on offense. The defensive side shows a marked contrast. Tom Pecora’s Rams are doing at best, a marginal  job on that end.  A further look shows opposition eFG percentage at 47% and an opposing TO rate of 15%.  Simply, the Rams are a bit too generous to teams shooting from the field while not exerting ball pressure to create turnovers. Forcing mistakes is not solely predicated on full court pressing, turnovers can also be a product of sound half court D.
  
The Owls’ outstanding defensive efficiency is produced by limiting teams to a 43% eFG mark. The ball pressure is respectable as Fran Dunphy’s club forces a 20% TO rate. Offensively, Temple’s 18% TO rate stands out.  They value the ball and rarely beat themselves, even on a possession to possession basis.
  
The two teams do a good job of limiting opposition to one shot. Temple’s opposition has a 27% offensive rebound percentage while Fordham checks in at a healthy 28%.

Final Note. Neither team appears to be forcing the pace as the average pace (possessions per game) is identical. Temple just has to come in and execute.  Play their game, the one that made them the class of the conference. Fordham shouldn’t be considered lightly. There is a new mindset on Rose Hill and this is a Ram team that came from twenty points down in the second half to pull out that win over St. John’s.

The Atlantic Ten Conference season is upon us.
-Ray Floriani- 


College Chalktalk A-10 Conference Preview



Atlantic 10 Notebook: The Wild, Wide Open A-10

Ian Nolan, College Chalktalk Staff Writer

As we turn the calendar over to 2011, the conference slate is fast approaching. This week, Atlantic 10 Basketball will tip-off on Wednesday night… and Temple will officially begin their quest for a fourth straight automatic bid.  However, before we look ahead to the next three months of basketball, let’s take a look at six headlines that have captured our attention so far in the 2010-2011 season.

The Wild, Wide Open Atlantic 10
As of Saturday night, the Atlantic 10 boasted no team with fewer than three losses, and eight teams that have won at least seven of their non-conference games. Our preseason predicted champion Temple has looked the part at times this year, such as their win over 10th ranked Georgetown; but isn’t a dominant team at this point that looks poised to run away and hide with the league crown.

Xavier stands at 8-4 but has had to play with a very short bench after losing Brad Redford to a torn ACL and Justin Martin to ineligibility.  The Musketeers have had their share of poor showings (see overtime win vs. IPFW and double-digit loss to rival Miami of Ohio).

Richmond, which entered the season returning much of the same cast that pushed Temple to the limit in the A-10 title game a year ago, sports an 11-4 mark and has used the 15th best shooting percentage in the nation to carry them into league play. Chris Mooney’s club has beaten the likes of 8th ranked Purdue, Arizona State, Virginia Commonwealth, and Seton Hall, but laid the proverbial egg last night against Bucknell.

And what about Jim Baron’s Rhode Island Rams? Led by do it all senior Delroy James, the Rams are off to a 9-4 start with a quality win over Boston College last week… and are well balanced offensively with five players averaging double figures.  Defense and rebounding remain question marks that Rhody must address in conference play.

Finally, we come to the Dayton Flyers, leading the league in wins at 12-3, and are winners of seven of their last eight games. The Flyers boast the 17th best rebounding outfit in the nation (41 boards) which has helped cover up their offensive deficiencies as they rank just 299th in field goal percentage (40%). Freshman point guard Juwan Staten has been a godsend to the team, averaging 6.6 helpers per night, but more on him later.

After covering our bases by noting those five teams’ respective accomplishments, it goes without saying that the rest of the league is just as wide open as the top four or five spots.  Teams such as UMass, La Salle, St. Bonaventure, Duquesne, Charlotte, Saint Louis and George Washington could all dream of finishing as high as fifth in the league or finish as low as 11th. The combined record of those mentioned clubs is 49-40, meaning that while the race at the top of the league is hotly contested by quality clubs, the race for slots five or six on down is just as wide open, but filled with clubs who have a combination of star power (see Andrew Nicholson of St. Bonaventure, Aaric Murray of La Salle, Anthony Gurley of UMass) as well as glaring holes in their overall game (St. Bonaventure’s non-existent bench, La Salle’s inability to get stops, and UMass’ poor shooting).

If nothing else, this season of league play promises to be one of unprecedented parity with seeding for Atlantic City likely to come down to the final day of the season for many slots.

Nicholson Carries Bonnies, and hope in Olean
Andrew Nicholson entered his junior season a marked man. After losing guards Jonathan Hall and Chris Matthews, Nicholson was sure to see double and triple teams each night this year.

He has.

And he’s responded like a future NBA draft selection. Averaging over 20 points per game along with nine rebounds, Nicholson gives the Bonnies a talent they haven’t suited up in maybe thirty or more seasons; a 6-foot-9 forward who can score in a variety of ways, and can even step out and knock down the three. St. Bonaventure may not be deep but is now a team to be leery of during conference play because of its superstar forward.

Dayton Gets a Point Guard, a Damn Fine Point Guard
The Atlantic 10 doesn’t always nab the most heralded recruits in the nation when compared to the power conferences; but Juwan Staten was heralded coming out of high school and he has produced in a big time way. Staten is averaging 9 points and 6.6 assists per game, not only leading the league in that column, but he also leads the nation in assist rate (assists divided by field goals made when he is on the floor). Staten has been just what the doctor ordered for a Dayton team who always had people saying “If they only had a good point man…” The Flyers are now loaded with talent (Staten, C. Wright, C. Johnson) and ripe to make a title run under Brian Gregory who may finally have the pieces in place to climb to the top of the mountain.

Again, Fran Dunphy Finds another Scorer                    
It just doesn’t seem to matter to Fran Dunphy who graduates from his program. Dionte Christmas then Ryan Brooks, now the Owls have junior Ramone Moore who has upped his scoring from seven points a game to 15 a night, all sparked by his 36% shooting from deep. Moore has more than been a sidekick to the Allen-Fernandez duo; he’s pushed them aside to form a threesome as good as any in the league. Moore officially arrived on December 9th, the night of the Owls win over 9th ranked Georgetown on ESPN. Moore had 30 that night, and he hasn’t looked back since. While the Owls are not a sure-thing to win the league, they still have to get the nod given their track record and ability to develop players like Moore and forward Michael Eric.

Tu's got game
During this offseason Xavier point guard Terrell Holloway earned the right to be called Tu (his childhood nickname) by his coaches and teammates, and now he's more than backing it up against opponents on the court. Holloway has been fighting Andrew Nicholson for the early rights to Player of the Year honors, raising his scoring from 12 to 21 points a night to go along with over five assists per game. While Xavier has been somewhat hamstrung for scoring options this season, it has only sped up the development of their explosive point guard who has scored at least 20 points seven times already. Chris Mack’s club may not have the talent or depth as a year ago, but they still have a game changer in Holloway, who may be good enough to win them the league despite other shortcomings.

What Might have been in Saint Louis
Look at statistics from the Saint Louis roster and you will find that the top two scorers for Rick Majerus’ Saint Louis club are Kyle Cassidy and a freshman guard named Jordair Jett. It wasn’t supposed to be that way this season.  Dismissed from school prior to the season for involvement in an alleged sexual assault incident were Atlantic 10 standouts Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed. Many thought the Billikens had the one-two, inside-outside punch needed to compete for a league title, especially when considering their head coach and his track record to develop a team. Now, the Billikens are 5-8 team which ranks near the bottom of the nation in scoring and are comprised of seven freshmen who may be in over their heads come January and February. Were it not for off the court issues, Saint Louis would be a completely different ballclub, and the Temple would have one more challenger to worry about come March.

Major Credit
The boo-birds were out in full force a few weeks back with the dismissal of Shamari Spears and the 'Niners struggling at the time.  But not surprisingly Alan Major kept plugging along.  The team was initially buoyed by a win over then No. 7 Tennessee and has now reeled-off four straight after defeating Georgia Tech in double-overtime last night.  Charlotte, 8-6 on the year, is receiving contributions from many on both ends of the floor... and Javarris Barnett deserves particular mention.  After spending his first couple of years playing sparingly, the junior has dropped in 15 or more in two of his last three games and become a stabilizing force from the perimeter for Major.  This team's situation wasn't nearly as rosy as many speculated in the preseason given Charlotte's defensive deficiencies last year, the lack of multiple consistent scoring options, and the challenge of a new coach implementing his system with a newcomer at lead guard.  Rebuilding takes time.  So let's remember when the 'Niners lose a few - which they will - that Major's team is playing hard, he's slowly changing the culture in the Queen City and that he has this group headed in the right direction. (By: Chris DiSano)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

ESPN: Chris Gaston's unforgettable ride

Written by ESPN's Diamond Leung 


SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Fordham's Chris Gaston is blessed with what coach Tom Pecora calls "a rebounder's body." The 6-foot-7, 235-pound sophomore is powerfully built with exceptionally long arms and hands that can reliably pluck basketballs out of the air.

There's also the chip on his broad shoulders that developed over time.

Gaston was 10 when his father, Hector, who was a high school coach in New Jersey at the time, began taking him to train with older players after school. They bloodied his lip, pushed him around and taught him to scrap for the ball. But because of academics, colleges barely recruited him out of high school.

Gaston is now the nation's third-leading rebounder, averaging 12.6 per game on a 6-6 Fordham team that already has tripled its win total from a year ago heading into its Atlantic 10 opener this week.


"It's just nature," Gaston said last week of his rebounding prowess. "Just being smart about it and having a little plan."

Making good decisions off the court was a skill that didn't come as naturally. Two weeks after being named the A-10 rookie of the year, Gaston emerged dazed and frightened from the front passenger seat of an overturned car, feeling fortunate to be alive after a March 21 high-speed crash.

Gaston said he had left a friend's birthday party in his hometown of Union City, N.J. to grab a bite when the driver of the Cadillac he was riding in began racing with another vehicle.

"There was a point we passed three red lights in a row, and I knew I was going to die," Gaston said. "I said to myself, 'We're going to die.' I'm telling him, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' but I didn't want to push the wheel. Three red lights in a row, 5 o'clock in the morning, going really, really fast."

The cars eventually collided, and Gaston said he counted as the Cadillac flipped eight times before landing upside down. The driver of the vehicle fled on foot and faced criminal charges while the three passengers were sent to the hospital.

Gaston's injuries were not serious. He escaped with bumps and bruises, receiving treatment for the skin that was scraped off his right arm and for scars on his elbow and shoulder.

Gaston said it was "a stupid decision" to put himself in that situation. His poor judgment had previously overshadowed his accomplishments on the court while playing for Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley and powerhouse St. Anthony High School. "I remember Coach Hurley telling me, 'He's a walking double-double,'" said Jared Grasso, the assistant coach who recruited Gaston to Fordham. "And Coach Hurley isn't one to throw around compliments like that."

Hurley taught Gaston versatility as a forward, but many times he was kicked out of the gym because of his lack of assertiveness in the classroom. "I was failing," Gaston said. "I wasn't trying. I didn't try. I thought I was just going to get to where I wanted to go by playing basketball. I wasn't thinking."

Recruiters knew of Gaston, but most shied away because his grades were so poor. He went on to St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., to play under Hurley's son, Dan, then needed a second year of prep school in New Hampshire to become eligible.

Gaston committed to Fordham, where high school teammate and friend Jio Fontan talked him up while Grasso followed the academic and athletic progress he made. "Nobody ever wanted me," said Gaston, who did not respond to recruiting interest from junior colleges. "I had nowhere else to go."

The Gaston signing paid off, as he burst onto the scene at Fordham last season, averaging 18 points and 11.4 rebounds per game to set the school's freshman scoring record and lead the A-10 in rebounding. The conference's top freshman remained focused even during the Rams' 2-26 season and winless conference campaign that saw Fontan quit the team and the school fire head coach Dereck Whittenburg five games into the season.

"He was miserable," Hector Gaston said of his son. "He said he would give up all of those accolades for some wins. It killed him. Everywhere Christopher had played at, they were winners."

Grasso, after serving as the interim coach, did not get the permanent position and landed at Iona, but out of loyalty to the struggling program that had taken a chance on him and needed him just as much, Gaston never considered transferring.

Grasso did leave Gaston with some words of wisdom during a heart-to-heart shortly after the accident. Hector, who taught Chris at a young age to rebound by placing a lid on the backyard hoop, broke down and cried during the meeting, the Puerto Rican native was shaken by the thought of losing his youngest child.

"For a kid as talented, I told him, 'You got to realize, you can't put yourself in situations like that,'" Grasso said. "He's different. He has a great opportunity in front of him. It could be taken from you like that."

Said Gaston: "It was just a lesson I needed to learn. I know better now."

Pecora, who had passed on the opportunity to recruit Gaston while previously coaching at Hofstra, is a new voice for him. On the eve of Fordham's first game this season, he had his players take sheets of paper, each of them containing a statistic from the 2-26 season, and threw them into a fire pit as a way of keeping last season in the past.

What hasn't changed is Gaston living up to Hurley's vision of him as a consistent double-double player. While relentless on the boards, he's also averaging 15.5 points on 49 percent shooting and already has nine double-doubles on the young season, including one in the team's memorable comeback win over St. John's.
With Pecora, the Rams have won six games in the first two months -- one more than they combined to win during the previous two seasons combined.

"I knew we had to go and rebound because last year there were nights they shot the hell out of it but still didn't win because they didn't defend and rebound," Pecora said.

"[Gaston] is athletic enough to go get the ball. He's very good at positioning himself. He's very good at tipping the ball to himself. He's great at getting the weak side just by nature."

Gaston, who'd like to cut down on his turnovers and improve his jump shot, is an expert at understanding how positioning and angles play into rebounding. He cleans the glass and can play like a guard, looking to lead the Rams on the fast break and, perhaps, to only their second winning season since 1992.

Winning rookie of the year hardware was certainly a nice start. But Hector is partial to the Jesus medallion his son wore the day of the wreck, and it now hangs on the rearview mirror of his own car as a reminder of what could have been lost.

"Being here and just doing what I've been doing has just been a blessing," Gaston said.

Diamond Leung covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at diamond83@gmail.com.

Suzie McConnell-Serio Named Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year



Suzie McConnell-Serio

PITTSBURGH - Duquesne head basketball coach Suzie McConnell-Serio has been named the 2010 Dapper Dan Sportswoman of the Year as announced by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

McConnell-Serio was recently featured in the Atlantic 10 Conference's 35th Anniversary Celebration for her incredible career as an A-10 Women's Basketball student-athlete.  Click here for the article or here for complete coverage of the 35th Anniversary.

The Sportswoman of the Year award has been given annually since 1999 and is presented by the Dapper Dan Charities, which benefits the youth sports and education programs of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Western Pennsylvania.

McConnell-Serio, who was the first-ever winner of the award following her first season with the WNBA's Cleveland Rockers, has led the Dukes to back-to-back 20 win season and appearances in the WNIT.

"It is a honor to be recognized by the Dapper Dan," said McConnell-Serio. "As a coach, my success depends on our team. It is privilege to be acknowledged by the City of Pittsburgh for our accomplishments."

The 75th annual event will be held Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. A cocktail reception and silent auction begins at 6:00 p.m. with the dinner and awards program to follow at 7:00 p.m. Tickets can be ordered by calling 412-263-3850.

For more information on the event, click here.